Aaron Mandel, Assistant Director of Teen Programs for Camp Tawonga, wrote a trip update on the first few days of the Teen Service Learning trip with Yahel in Israel.
The group has now been in Israel for over three full days and things are off to a great start! Upon arrival in the late afternoon, the group met Inbal, the Israeli staff from Yahel Israel who will be with the group throughout the trip and went to a promenade that overlooks Jerusalem for the first full group meeting and discussion in Israel. Dinner at their hotel that night overlooked the old city of Jerusalem. The group did a geography activity and got to bed early after the long day of travel.
The next day the group toured through Jerusalem including the Jewish quarter of the old city and a visit to the Western Wall which was very special for the teens. The group also toured the City of David and got a lot of rooftop views of the city. Their guide taught them a lot about the significance of Jerusalem for many different peoples. For lunch this day the teens were all given their own allotment of shekels and allowed to choose from a few different restaurants to sample the local cuisines. After wrapping up in Jerusalem the group headed to their home base for the next two weeks outside of Yavne and settled in. After dinner they had a session on “culture as an iceberg” to prep for their meetings with the community the following day.
Yesterday the group spent the whole day getting to know the community, teens and key players in Yavne, the site of our service project. They visited a resource center for Ethiopian Israeli families and met many people from government agencies and the Friends by Nature NGO we are working with. The group also spent the afternoon and early evening getting to know the group of Ethiopian teens who will be with them throughout the time in Yavne. Group get-to-know-you games and a BBQ dinner closed out the day and the staff all report that it was really inspiring and special to see the connections starting to be formed.
The work project begins today and over the weekend the group goes on a weekend Shabbat retreat to an ecological educational farm. Everyone is soaking in all the new sights and sounds and having a great time!
This entry was originally posted on Molly’s personal blog, a participant on our Boston Onward Israel program in Haifa. For background purposes, Yahel is running a 6-week service-learning program in Haifa for 18 New-England-area students. Through direct service opportunities, participants will contribute to the Hadar neighborhood by volunteering alongside local Israel activists. In addition to group volunteer projects, each participant is assigned an individual placement where they will volunteer 4 days a week for the next 3 weeks.
Today, my group of 5 people got to talk to the camp director about our individual placement at the summer camp. What she told us was really interesting and made me super excited for the session to begin. She told us that the kids at the camp (4th-6th graders) are hand-picked by social workers, teachers, counselors, etc. to come to this camp. They are kids with a lot of problems at home; many have extremely low-income families, 60% live with only their mother, and they are all sent to this camp to have some older mentors to talk to, look up to, and just to hang out with while their parents are at work.
The camp is only 400 shekels for 3 weeks (that’s about 100$), and not all of them can even pay that. She said that the kids are the children one step below being removed from their homes by child services. Many of them don’t get fed at home, have nobody looking after them all day, and are exposed to things like alcoholism, drugs, and prostitution in the neighborhood because of the lack of care for them. Therefore, they come to this camp to be occupied and have counselors to talk to about their lives.
It seems like a big responsibility to have, especially since I can’t really talk to these kids. However, the schedule looks AWESOME. Every day we are doing something fun. We get to pick one “enrichment group” to be in (I want to do either arts and crafts or movement/dance). There is also one day each week when we go hiking, to the pool, and have a fun themed day with different activities that we get to plan. The theme of the summer is spies/secret agents/inspector gadget, or something like that, so all of the themed days also have costumes and fun games to go along with that theme. They also asked us to come up with a 5 minute shpiel every morning to teach a little bit of English that goes along with the day’s activities, through a song or skit or something like that.
I could not be happier with my placement. This is exactly what I do at camp, but with kids I can speak to. That is definitely what I am most nervous for. I don’t know how I will be able to connect with the kids if I can’t speak to them. But I know my Hebrew will improve a ton from this, and it will be a great learning experience with a lot of challenges. In a few hours we are going to meet them for the first time for just a few minutes. I’m nervous, but excited too! I also have the best group ever. It is 4 really great people from my group who I think will work well together. Wish me luck!
This morning I woke up early for the Hanukkah tiyul (camping trip) training session. Lisa and I got dressed and then headed for the local bakery around 7:45 am. It’s less than a three minute walk from our house, and whenever you pass by, the most enticingly delicious smell hits your nose. It’s almost impossible to resist going in when walking by, and I hardly ever attempt to resist. Lisa and I go in to find the place packed with people. It’s Friday morning and everyone wants to get the tastiest burekas (essentially flakey pastries filled with a variety of either savory or sweet goodness) in town before Shabbat. Lisa and I joke about buying two of each bureka because they are all fresh out of the oven and still steaming. We load sweet and savory treats into our bag while we attempt to keep our place in line, because the line is practically out of the door. I pay no more than a dollar for my five burekas: two potato, two mushroom & onion, and one chocolate croissant. After Lisa pays for her food, handling the line and Hebrew like a veteran Israeli, we head over to the meeting place for our tiyul. Read the rest of this entry »
We are two days away from marking our third month in Israel. And while we are by no means nearing the end of our adventure here, like so many others in my house, I have begun to contemplate the next steps I will take when my time with Yahel comes to a close. My passion, for the last four years of college study, and a greater part of my adult life, has resided in working with children. This passion played a major role in my decision to come to Israel with Yahel, since I would be afforded the opportunity to work in a local elementary school. I am no stranger to working in a classroom, but none the less, I know that things operate differently in different countries, and braced myself accordingly. What I have discovered, is a surprise none the less.
Our experience has actually been quite unique. We work side-by-side with two different teachers, each with their own unique style. When we say, ‘kids will be kids,’ we all know that accounts for a certain level of leeway, be it their understanding of the world, or in this case, their level of mischievousness. Apparently, Israeli kids are notorious for being rambunctious.
One of the women we work with, Oshrit, is probably no different than any other EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher. She was educated in the Israeli school system, and mastered her English abilities while attending University in England. Yet, despite the chaos I observed in the school yard, and heard in the halls, I observed a classroom of quiet, respectful students. Was it simply this handful of students? My theory was proven false upon observing all of her subsequent classes behaving in the same manner. I decided I needed to know her secret, and I asked just that, to which I received the response ‘You cannot let them misbehave like they do outside or in their other classes. If a student does not want to listen, or do his work, I call his parents and make sure they know about it.’ This answer though, did not have me convinced. My own experience and knowledge had shown that authoritarian rule over the classroom always ended in failure. But then I noticed something that made everything clear to me. While walking down the hall, we came upon two young boys getting into a pretty heated argument. At this point, Oshrit intervened, and she and one of the boys began a heated conversation of their own. Voices continued to rise, up until Oshrit’s became the dominant of the two and what had started as an argument soon became a lecture. The entire conversation took place in Hebrew, so of course I understood only a few words, but the context was clear. What followed next totally took me by surprise. Oshrit’s voice went from rigid, to soft and comforting. She said a few more words (that I did not understand) then took the boys face in her hands, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. It was suddenly clear to me, why her kids behaved in the manner that they did. It wasn’t out of fear, but respect. It was clear that they identified Oshrit as a figure not to be messed with, but also as someone they could rely on, someone who they could trust to be fair. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in September, the Yahel Social Change Program participants were asked to take on a group project. The objective was to learn about the needs of the community, think creatively and collaborate with community members to create a project that was helpful and sustainable. Nine months later and almost towards the end of the program, we are so proud to share with you this video that was put together by program participants. It tells the story of one of the projects they have been involved with – a glimpse into some of the amazing things that have been happening in Gedera.
When you blow by your fundraising goal in less than 48 hours, some tough questions come up. Questions like: what do you do with the funds raised beyond the target. Who determines the priority of needs, and how do you involve the community in your success? Tough questions, for sure, but one the Yahelnikim are pleased to be wrestling with. Other questions too, like: now that the budget is there, could you fit two pool tables in the small converted youth center?